March 12, 2008

A Bridge Too Ferraro

It should go without saying that there are people who are voting for Barack Obama because he is Black. It should go without saying that there are people who are voting for Hillary Clinton because she's a woman. (And it should go without saying that there are people voting against both of them for the same reasons.)

But isn't that the point? Thoughts like these should go without saying. Not that we shouldn't talk about race or gender and how it affects politics, but what is to be gained from stating the obvious? A Black man will never get the vote of a racist and a woman will never get the vote of a sexist, and those who are reducing their votes to race- or gender-based decisions are a small minority. Move along.

But, on the fringes are those who are subtly affected by racism. And that's what makes comments like Geraldine Ferraro's so distressing. She might not have meant anything by them when she first opened her mouth, but her relentless statements and TV appearances, not to mention her less-than-contrite resignation letter, stoked the flames that she claimed she had not lit.

Geraldine Ferraro's comments are notable not for their implicit racism but for their overt stupidity. She might as well have said, "If Barack Obama was not who he is, then people wouldn't vote for him." (If he were Chris Dodd, for example, he'd have been home in Connecticut a long time ago.) Of course his being Black is a part of who he is and has helped shaped his character and experience of the world. But to reduce his appeal solely to the color of his skin - to not recognize it as just one of many things that make up who he is - is racism. Even when meant positively, reducing a person to one uncontrollable characteristic is demeaning.

The chutzpah of the Clinton campaign and her surrogates is astounding. Perhaps it's true that Barack Obama wouldn't be where he was if he wasn't Black. Who knows? (If I weren't a short, Jewish guy from the suburbs, I wouldn't be where I am, wherever that is.) But doesn't a comment like that seem a little ironic when it's coming from the campaign of a person who many think might not be where she is today if she wasn't the wife of a former president? That's a door that maybe they shouldn't leave open.

To be fair, it doesn't always matter how a person got to where they are. What matters what they did after they got there. Would Bobby Kennedy had been a New York Senator and presidential candidate had he not been JFK's brother? Michael Bloomberg essentially bought his way to the mayor's office, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been a great executive for New York. Heck, I even enjoyed Casey Affleck's performance in "Gone Baby Gone."

Posted by Doug at March 12, 2008 07:28 PM